The murals covering the walls of Mexico City’s Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters draw large crowds, largely because Diego Rivera’s first large-scale mural project is among the artwork exhibited. But unless people take a good look at the nearby information board, they’ll miss all the people hiding within his paintings.
After returning to Mexico from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1927, Rivera was inspired to add a Communist touch to the mural project, which highlights Mexico’s working class and indigenous people. One of the best-known segments shows Frida Kahlo with a masculine haircut, championing a Mexican socialist revolution. But she isn’t the only famous figure to appear in the artwork.
Artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, the controversial Vittorio Vidali, the photographer Tina Modotti, and the Cuban activist Julio Antonio Mella (who was murdered a year after the mural was finished) also appear hidden within the images. You’ll also find Genaro Estrada of the Commercial Commission, the oil company heir Manuel Gorrochotegui, the extravagant actress Gloria Swanson, and the businessmen Henry Ford and John Davison Rockefeller.
One mural depicts a cluster of people called the Los Contemporáneos (The Contemporaries) being looked down upon by members of the working class. The Contemporaries center around the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who sports a funnel on his head. This section is meant to criticize the false wisdom of the elite class.
In another part, the writer Salvador Novo is being kicked by a group of Marxists. He has donkey ears sprouting from his head. A banner above the image reads “whoever wants to eat works.” Novo was so offended by this depiction of him that he wrote a barbed retaliatory poem about Rivera.
The murals on the ground floor are less political because they feature typical Mexican parties. However, there are many more hidden people: the painter Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, the bullfighter Juan Silveti, the cabaret actress Celia Montalván, the model Nahui Ollin, the composer Concha Michel, the journalist Esperanza Bringas, and even the activist Pandurang Sadashiv.